After gram panchayat election, AP SEC now focuses on conduct of urban local bodies polls

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Amaravati, Feb 22 (PTI) After the successful completion of elections to gram panchayats in four phases, the Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission has now turned its focus on conduct of polls to urban local bodies but certain legal hurdles were impeding the process for mandal and zilla parishads.

'We wanted to conduct elections to mandal and zilla parishads soon after the panchayat polls.But court cases are pending over two-three issues and as such we thought it not appropriate to go ahead with the process.' 'Once the legal hurdles are cleared, we will conduct the polls to these Panchayat Raj Institutions as well,'State Election Commissioner N Ramesh Kumar told reporters here on Monday.

Election process for mandal and zilla parishads as well as urban local bodies (75 municipalities and 12 municipal corporations) was postponed in March last year due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

On February 15, the SEC decided to resume the election process for the ULBs, from where it was stalled last year, and set March 10 as the date of polling.

In the case of mandal and zilla parishads, the opposition parties have been demanding that the SEC cancel last year's election notification and restart the process afresh. They alleged the ruling YSR Congress resorted to forced withdrawal of nominations besides blocking several candidates from filing nominations in many districts.

The Commission, however, asked such aggrieved candidates to approach the respective district Collectors with complaints, and required evidence, about forced withdrawals, based on which an appropriate call would be taken.

In the case of ULBs, the Commission sought reports with regard to complaints/representations received on instances of possible declaration of unanimous elections on account of forceful prevention of candidates from filing nominations with evidence.

'The Commission has issued instructions to district Collectors to report all cases where candidates came forward with complaints/representations of coercive and forced withdrawal of candidatures under duress, inducement, etc, immediately to enable it to take a decision on such cases to revive their candidatures.' 'The Collectors have been asked to send reports by Tuesday,' Ramesh Kumar said.

As 56 candidates, who filed nominations for contesting the ULB elections at different places, died due to different reasons, the Commission asked the recognised and registered political parties to put up alternative candidates by February 28.

In all 28 candidates of the YSRC, 17 of TDP, five of BJP, three of CPI, two of Congress and one of Jana Sena Party died since March last, some of them due to Covid-19.

The State Election Commissioner conducted a videoconference with district Collectors to discuss issues related to the ULB polls.

Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das, Director General of Police D G Sawang, Additional DGP (Law and Order) Ravi Shankar Ayyanar and other senior officials attended.

The SEC asked the district Collectors to keep sufficient number of ballot boxes ready and ensure foolproof printing of ballot papers.

Ramesh Kumar directed that all necessary precautions for prevention of coronavirus be followed and no voter be allowed into the polling station without a face mask.

He said the model code of conduct has already come into force in the ULBs.

He asked the DGP to ensure adequate availability of police force and prepare specific bandobust plans after vulnerability mapping and identification of sensitive, hypersensitive and critical polling stations.

Talking to reporters about the panchayat elections, the SEC said 2,197 sarpanchs (16.77 per cent) and 47,459 ward members (36.22 per cent) were elected unopposed.

'The Gram Panchayat elections could be held due to the dedication and commitment of government servants at large and the police force, which had extended comprehensive security cover.The remarkable feature of the elections is the enthusiasm of the voters and the public concerned at large.' 'The elections also stand out for being entirely violence-free, barring a few stray incidents,' the SEC said.